Wild Things

Salon magazine: No parent wants to be like that evil, creativity-squelching teacher in the Harry Chapin song, "Flowers Are Red." A look at art kits for kids, by Andrea Gollin.

By Andrea Gollin

Published August 21, 1997 7:52PM (EDT)

no parent wants to be like that evil, creativity-squelching teacher in
the Harry Chapin song "Flowers Are Red" who reprimands a boy for making a
picture when "it's not the time for art" and then tells him that his
picture is wrong because flowers can't be any color, the way he's drawn
them. No, "flowers are red ... green leaves are green." The teacher, as we
enlightened folk know, should be tarred and feathered for the injury she's
inflicted on this budding Picasso, who will now instead become an
investment banker and thus be able to afford all the therapy he's going to

By the time the boy in the song encounters a smiling teacher who
recognizes that there are more than two colors in the world, it's too
late for him. He's morphed into a dutiful, red-and-green-flower-drawing
robot. Over-earnest as the Chapin song is (and it's so didactic that it
almost makes you want to draw a couple of red flowers), he does have a
point. Of course, everyone knows that children's creativity should be
encouraged, that self-expression through art is healthy and that you
should give your kids plenty of crayons, even if they eat most of them.

But how does a parent encourage artistic creativity? It's difficult to
tell a child to go off and paint or draw or color because eventually,
assigning a time or making art part of a schedule can make it seem like
homework. On the other hand, you want your house to be a place where
there's time for art ...

Feeling the anxiety yet? The finger being pointed at you for not
creating the right environment to allow your children to achieve their
potential? There are, of course, plenty of art toys and games and
products on the market. Some of them are great products, and some of
them capitalize on parental art anxiety. For instance, Disney's Magic
is a new CD-ROM that feeds off your insecurities as an art
facilitator. "Anyone Can Be Creative" the box announces. Yes,
anyone can be creative -- as long as that creativity involves Disney

The Disney CD-ROM lets you put various characters into different
costumes, poses and backgrounds. For example, you can send Mickey to
outer space. There are several drawing tools to choose from that go
beyond the standard crayon-marker-paintbrush category to include toothbrush, whipped cream and confetti patterns.

The press kit that arrived with the sample CD-ROM conveniently included
several possible ways to write about this product. One approach: the
computer as the new canvas for the '90s. Throw away that coloring book,
click that mouse! A second suggestion: Get over fear of the blank page with
the help of ready-made elements, such as backgrounds, that will make art
more comforting, less intimidating. OK ... The third idea: All
those "tools" necessary for creativity used to be hard to come by, until
now, when those inaccessible art products are conveniently packaged on
one handy CD-ROM for the whole family! Is a good box of crayons that
hard to find? ($35-$40; for ages 6 and up for Windows 95/Macintosh,
from Disney Interactive, 800-900-9234)

We're not saying that buying this product is akin to selling your soul
to the devil; we're saying that it's not about creating art, it's about
playing around on the computer with a graphics program. If you want your
kids to get more familiar with the computer, and if you don't mind them
dreaming about Donald Duck, then this is a great product. But if you
want to encourage artistic expression, paper and a pencil would be
better. However, the 129-piece Giant Artist Case would be much, much
better. It has everything a kid could want, all laid out in nifty rows.
There are markers, colored pencils, oil pastels, crayons and
watercolors arranged in a portable carrying case. You provide
the paper -- and the encouragement. ($23; for ages 5 and up, item MC130
from Battat, 800-247-6144)

Andrea Gollin

Andrea Gollin is a freelance writer living in Miami. Her children's summer book special continues next Thursday.

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